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2003 Season, One Day After

Now that we really have had time to exhale, here are a few of my very brief thoughts on the series that begins tomorrow night; I'm almost hesitant to say too much, because:

1) I'm nervous

2) I'm nervous

3) How much can you say, really? The principals are so well known, and you can get too bogged down in analysis, like Chris DeLuca did in yesterday's Sun-Times, and get stuff wrong, like who has the better starting pitching.

So that's where I'm starting. Yes, the Braves won 13 games more than the Cubs did this year. That's because they far-and-away led the league in runs scored, scoring 907 runs to the Cubs' 725. But they also allowed more runs than the Cubs' staff, 740 to 683; the Cubs finished third in the NL in fewest runs allowed, and of course obliterated the team strikeout record, finishing with 1396.

In a short series, good pitching can and usually does stop good hitting. This is not your father's (or even your older brother's) Braves team; for 12 years they've lived and died on great starting pitching. But Russ Ortiz won 21 games primarily because of the Braves' offense; he issued 102 walks and had a 3.81 ERA, not bad but higher than any of the Cubs' top three starters. Mike Hampton has had a nice comeback year after his nightmarish two years in Denver, but the Cubs have beaten him before (I remember that 9-walk game they had off of him in Tokyo in 2000!), and did score five runs off him earlier this year in a game the Braves won.

So that leaves Prior vs. Maddux, and Wrigley Field ought to be rocking for that on Friday night. Maddux isn't what he used to be either, though he did beat the Cubs twice this year, and got his ERA under 4.00 with his final start of the season yesterday.

The bottom line is: if Wood, Zambrano and Prior stay within themselves, throw the games they are capable of throwing, and the offense -- particularly Sammy Sosa who is showing signs of getting hot just at the right time -- can get to Atlanta's bullpen, the Cubs will be celebrating their first postseason series win since 1908.

No predictions. I am too nervous.

On to other topics today, since we have time: my picks for the major postseason awards, with a few brief comments.

NL MVP: Barry Bonds. His numbers were down a bit, but he still is a dominant player at 39; he hit a tremendous number of dramatic game-winning HR's and other hits; and his team rocketed into the playoffs, which for me is the difference and why I wouldn't pick Albert Pujols. In a year when the Cardinals were only a little over .500, I would only pick someone like him if he won the Triple Crown.

AL MVP: Now, this is an interesting choice, since there wasn't really anyone from a playoff team who had a dominant season. Jason Giambi had good production, but he hit .250.

Everyone is touting A-Rod, but he actually had the worst of the three seasons he's spent in a Rangers uniform.

No, my choice is Carlos Delgado, who led the league in RBI and finished his season with a flourish, a grand slam in his final at-bat of the year. Toronto players don't sometimes get the credit they deserve because of where they play. But I'd watch out for the Blue Jays next year.

NL Cy Young: Mark Prior. Nuff said.

AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, despite the protestations of White Sox fans. Halladay was more consistent and won more games.

NL Rookie of the Year: The sexy choice, of course, is Dontrelle Willis, and he did lead rookie pitchers in wins. Then there's Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, who pretty much singlehandedly kept Arizona in contention while Johnson and Schilling were out. But he too faltered, and finished 10-9.

No, my pick is Scott Podsednik of Milwaukee, who was outright released by Seattle after a couple of undistinguished cups of coffee (though his ML debut was a bases-loaded triple). He scored 100 runs for a mediocre offense, hit .314 and stole 43 bases, besides being an excellent defensive CF. He's not young -- he's 27 -- but he clearly was the rookie who had the most impact on his team. Without him in the leadoff spot, Milwaukee surely would have lost well over 100 games again.

AL Rookie of the Year: Again, the sexy media pick is Hideki Matsui, and he'll probably win. Sure, he drove in 100 runs, but almost anyone falling out of bed could do that on that team. Another unheralded pick would be Royals SS Angel Berroa, who hit .287, scored 92 runs and hit 17 HR for a playoff contender. He did make 24 errors.

But my pick is going to be a personal one, a guy who many of you probably have never heard of. Cleveland's Jody Gerut is from the Chicago area and is a personal friend of Brian, Dave and Kevin, and he hit .279 with 22 HR and 75 RBI, even though he was a) playing for a terrible team, and b) wasn't even in the majors for the first month.

AL Manager of the Year: Tony Pena. Nuff said.

NL Manager of the Year: There are actually three possible choices here -- Jack McKeon, who took a club that was going to be tanking the season in May at 16-22, led them to a 75-49 record and the playoffs; Felipe Alou, who took a league champion that changed half its starting lineup and its manager and led them to a better record; and Dusty Baker.

OK, my vote goes to Baker -- for what he did for the franchise not only in baseball-playing terms, but in the way he changed the entire focus and attitude. Many men have tried this and failed. Dusty did it in one season.

Honorable mention also to Frank Robinson, who took the poor-stepchild Expos and kept them in contention till the season's last three weeks.

That's a nice way to take a break from all the pressure of the last few weeks, and to reflect on the season that was, and the new season that begins tomorrow.

Finally, "I Have Been Told By Reliable Sources"... that Saturday's "if necessary" game four, will be played at 3:05 central time.